Fu*k the cancer Facebook slacktivism

As a relative newbie to Facebook, I’m bemused by all the slacktivism. Share if you believe we need to cure cancer, like this page if you think society should stop animal cruelty, share if you think the best flavour at Gelato Messina is salted caramel.

It’s all pretty pointless stuff. Of course we want to cure cancer, yes animal cruelty is barbaric and who wouldn’t choose salted caramel over something as boring as peppermint choc chip? Any other answer is just crazy.

But yesterday I got angry.

You may have noticed red love hearts popping up on your Facebook feed. No comments, just the heart.

What does it all mean? Pre-valentine’s day prep? Are all your friends in love? Was there a sale on at the emoticon store?

Turns out it was for breast cancer awareness week.

Well of course it was. Everyone knows the best way to promote something is to do it via stealth.

What are the chances that the women who posted the pretty love hearts, who patted themselves on the back for doing their bit, actually went home and checked their boobs?

Forget the fucking hearts and spread information instead. How many women know how to do it? The best time of the month to do it? What to look for?

Let’s let go of the idea that only women over 40 should be checking their breasts and start them young. When we teach girls about their period, we should also teach them how to check their breasts properly so that it becomes an ingrained monthly habit.

Let’s start a conversation and get people talking.

People often ask me about my cancer and then look embarrassed, telling me I don’t have to talk about it if I don’t want to. But I do want to, because knowledge is power.

When I was diagnosed I sought out women who’d been through it, because I wanted to know as much as possible about what was coming up. I’m incredibly grateful to those who went before me for sharing their experiences and I do the same.

When people share publicly, whether online or via their celebrity it has more power because the reach is greater. It’s easier to explain my BRCA diagnosis because people always go, “Oh, that’s the Angelina Jolie gene.” If only I had more in common Ange than just a predisposition to cancer.

This week, I chatted with a woman who knew my story and wanted to share hers. She found a benign lump in her breast and although her mum had breast cancer and the BRCA gene, she didn’t know if she wanted to get tested for it. We spoke about our shared experiences of biopsies and mammograms, we discussed the pros and cons of being tested and, if the test result is positive, what to do next.

So forget the slacktivism and spread information instead.

 

 

 

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Finding the lump

“Feel this,” I said, taking The Boy’s hand and putting it on my right breast.

He didn’t even have time to finish his smile before it turned into a frown and I knew I wasn’t imagining it.

It was hard, round, pea-sized and definitely there.

We were lying on the floor, watching TV and my right arm was stretched above my head. Over the next few weeks and countless doctors appointments later, I learnt that it’s the ideal position to examine breasts, the action stretches out the tissue so that it flattens out and gives you more surface area to prod.

I don’t know why my arm was in that position that night.

I don’t make a habit of examining my breasts, usually around October when everything turns pink and I’m reminded that I probably should pay lip service to it.

I’m 32, healthy and have no family history.

Over the next few weeks, I put off having a mammogram but I would constantly check my breast. I couldn’t feel the lump when I stood up, but when I lay down and stretched my arm it was there.

Until one day it wasn’t. I couldn’t feel it anymore.

Score. I can just pretend that it never happened.

Then I got a letter reminding me I was overdue for a pap smear, another of those delightful tests that I wanted to put off but this time I dutifully trotted off to the GP. The Boy and I were trying to fall pregnant and after a few months of nothing I wanted to make sure everything was in working order.

I casually mentioned the now-missing lump to my GP and she referred me for an ultrasound. It was probably nothing but it wouldn’t hurt to check.

Mammograms aren’t ideal for women under 40, breast tissue is too dense and it’s hard to detect abnormalities, so we started out with an ultrasound. Lying there and chatting away to the technician while he did his thing, he said it was probably a cyst. They form, then they go away. Nobody knows why, but it’s nothing to worry about.

He kept the ultrasound probe in the one spot and asked if I felt anything. Nope, nada.

There was a lump there, but before I completed my freak out he calmed me down. It was benign. Phew.

My referral was just for the right breast, but seeing as I was already lying bare-chested on the table and he had found something in one, I asked him to check the other one.

We were happily chatting away when he focussed on a spot about two centimetres above my left nipple.

“Does this hurt?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“Any tenderness?”

“Nope.”

“Any nipple discharge?”

“Nope,” I said, still oblivious.

“I can see another lump.”

“Just like the other one?” I asked, unperturbed. Writing this down now, I can’t believe I was so thick.

There was a three second pause before he said, “This one is different.”

And that’s when I got it.

It was the way he said “different.” I just knew.

I had to wait a week for the results of the mammogram and biopsies to come in. People say the worst is the waiting, the not-knowing. They’re wrong. At least while waiting you can kid yourself that there’s nothing wrong.

Although I felt the cyst, I couldn’t feel those two lumps. I would lie down, examining my breasts and not feel a thing. But they were there. Even my brilliant surgeon needed a few seconds of prodding before he found the cancerous one, and that’s with experience and a mammogram which showed him exactly where it was. I would have had no chance of finding it on my own.

If I hadn’t felt that cyst, I wouldn’t have mentioned it to my GP.

If I hadn’t had the pap smear reminder, I wouldn’t have seen my GP.

If I hadn’t had the benign lump in my right breast, I wouldn’t have asked to get my left checked.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t done any of those things, then I wouldn’t be on the uncontrollable roller coaster ride that my life has become. I know it’s cowardly and my rational self calls bullshit on my emotional side because the thought that it could still be in there, dividing, multiplying and growing, fills me with revulsion.